Saturday, February 18, 2012


At the store a customer asked me a question. After answering it, I was inspired to compliment his tie, which had lovely colours in a trippy, expressionist, Gauguin-like way. The compliment pleased the guy, who showed me that it was a Jerry Garcia tie. He said he had 12 of them. I have one myself.

I don’t know why I enter this vignette here, except that Garcia is someone of interest to me. That I share his birthday is an innocuous and not legitimately weight-carrying fact that I carry with me. I did not mention this to the man, not wanting this invention of mine to spoil our mutual high sign. But I want to listen to “Scarlet Begonias”.

So anyway, I have recently read two interesting bios. The second volume of Richard Holmes’ superb one on Coleridge, which I wrote upon earlier this month, on Babe Ruth's birthday. The other one, which I just finished, Van Gogh, by Steven Haifeh and Gregory White Pollock.

Both books are exhaustive, and in the case of the Van Gogh, exhausting.  The authors quote a lot of Vincent’s voluminous correspondence, in which he rails, enthuses and just plain pours forth. Both books describe tortured artists, without inflating that term beyond human levels. Coleridge suffered most acutely from opium, which ruled more than 30 years of his life. Had Van Gogh lived today, he might’ve been served medication that would have eased his tremendous emotional ups and downs. Maybe not—damn it, Jim, I’m not a doctor!—but that avenue of relief has widen greatly since his day.

Van Gogh is far less likeable than I expected. There was beauty in his soul—I do not mind using such a phrase—but his boat rocked so feverishly that he never seems in calm waters. I mean never. And his crazed enthusiasms and nearly complete inability to get along with others smashed up against a wall of middle class normality and propriety. His relationship with Theo is much more contentious than I expected. I figured him a naif who Theo helped along. The two were bonded for life, but never easily.

Wordsworth and Coleridge were somewhat similar. Whereas the Van Goghs competed within the family situation, Coleridge and Wordsworth competed as artists. They shared a youthful vision, but Wordsworth settled as a Grey Eminence, making good career moves, while Coleridge floundered in his own dissoloution and inconsolable yearning. He suffered unrequited love for Wordsworth’s wife’s sister. All of Van Gogh’s enthusiasms for people were unrequited, with the difficult exception of Theo. Gauguin was a dick, no surprise, but that does not ruin his paintings for me. Van Gogh was emotionally defenseless, and Gauguin was teh perfectly wrong person with whom he could broach a friendship.

I would love to be in Coleridge’s avuncular company. Vincent, would be a challenge but if I could keep my third eye observant while dealing with the lost lamb, maybe he would be someone one could learn from in his moments on Earth. His feet rarely touched the Earth, in this world of gravity. But Haifeh and Pollock advance with considerable backing evidence albeit without perfect proof that Vincent was killed, either accidentally or on purpose by some rich young a-holes who enjoyed tormenting the crazy man. Clearly this is one example of God not exactly tempering the wind to the shorn sheep.

That’s all biography right there, I mean, that’s the essence. We meet these human conspiracies of tension and release that make the subject worth our reading while. Internally, we take the facts and invent some vision. The man at the store and I, it felt like we shared a brief vision, some glint or spark that held Jerry’s music.

And I am writing my own story now, more than 100 pages in. It’s a matter of the brightly coloured thing shared.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Losing Barnes & Noble

Barnes and Noble struggles against the Internet’s Wall-Mart, Amazon. I will miss you, B&N.

Many little bookstore’s fell to Barnes & Noble’s size and power. The little bookstores I saw locally offered little reason to support them. In many instances, I could predict what I’d see in each section. The same handful of certified “classics” plus celebrity-driven books: Nancy Reagan’s Tax Advice, Paul Prudhomme’s Exercise Book, Cooking with Callista Flockart… Of course these stores boiled away.

B&N figured out that a bookstore visit could be pleasurable. You enter to the smell of Starbuck’s coffee (at least where we go). You see bargains, you see books from The Today Show segments, you see classics. There’s stuff to consider. And plus also it’s a place to sit with your computer and study. Not for me, maybe, but a lot of people do it. I own at least two books from B&N that I discovered had marginalia and underlinings, thanks to those erudite students.

We went Sunday afternoon, a quiet time out. The area near the door has been cleared out so that their desperate move with the Nook can be shown in best light. I’m not getting an e-reader anytime soon but e-readers are popular. Beth immediately saw a bargain-priced watercolouring book. I almost bought a book called Weird New England.

This book described places around here (maybe it was only Massachusetts) where occult activities have been noted. Woo Hoo! One, I was surprised to learn, is 1/2 mile from where I sit here. Dudley Rd off of busy North Rd loops two miles into an isolated area near the Concord River then comes back to North Road. It’s a weird journey. Near one end is a small country graveyard. Further on there’s what I thought was a convent (dedicated to Saint Thecla) but according to this weird book it’s a retreat. A chain link fence with barbed wire surrounds the building, which is odd enough. Keeping folk out or in? Just down the road from there Beth and I once saw a categorically monstrous turkey, easily chest high. Then there’s a very old farm that sells cut-your-own Xmas trees and I don’t know what else. The fields are rolling and beautiful. There’s a stretch of mansions on the hillside, unlikely old beautiful mansions, overlooking the farmland. You would never suspect their existence here. Each one could be the setting for Turn of the Screw or Fall of the House of Usher. The road dwindles down to a barely passable country lane, with a couple of old houses. The river is near but out of sight.

Definitely a strange feeling persists here, cue the spooky music. The book says a woman’s scream can be heard at night, and people have claimed that short bald men have sprung out of nowhere to clamber over cars and bang on them. Accent on claimed but it’s a good tale heightened by the cinematically spooky atmosphere. Think Lovecraft. The road passes thru an area of newer homes and condos in sylvan setting, and where the road reaches North Rd, there’s a horse farm. It’s the sort of book I might buy in weak moments.

I sort of wanted to get a scifi or fantasy but I’m just sick of seeing Book 17 in the Slogorian Saga as well as children of successful authors attenuating the ‘rent’s oeuvre, I Robot, You Jane.

I have never successfully finished an Edgar Rice Burroughs book but Beth saw a new edition of the John Carter novels that were tempting. Apparently there was a movie adaptation? If so, about time. Cue the accountants: Poetry has been moved to least prime territory possible. Literary/Criticism offered Emerson and Dick Cavett, of course. I do not understand why there are 5 different editions of Walden, incrementally priced.

B&N has had the good sense to make use of public domain. They publish cheap editions of classics. I own or have read most of what they offer, as do a lot of libraries, but still. I ended up getting The Red and the Black just because I wanted to carry something home.

Eastern religion seems threatened to be overwhelmed by New Age and Christian. There are a lot of Bibles. History, biography and tech all have depth of selection. The music was not as draggy as what Starbuck’s usually offers—that feeble “blues” or “jazz” that apparently coffee drinkers favour—but it was really poor Beatles covers by singers who insisted on slowing down the originals. And by the way, “The Long and Winding Road” was no great shakes the first time.

Seems like the extensive audio/video area is obsolescent and could be put to better use. Considerable parking exists on all four sides of the store but it’s often a search or a wait to park. People enjoy the place.

Amazon does not satisfy immediately, and the browsing tastes differently. The diligent shopper comments and suggestions are just extraneous to me. I’ve only used Amazon for specific used books. Cheap prices (with good quality in the ones that I’ve bought) and a furthering of hard copy’s obsolescence. So it goes, as Kurt would say.